Five years ago, I set foot in Ireland for the first time to visit a friend. What was meant to be a short break ended up being a life changing experience. I immediately fell in love with the Emerald island, its nature, history and people.
I haven’t left since then. It is paradoxical how it can feel like yesterday but at the same time like an eternity. As a matter of fact, so many things can happen in five years when you live with passion!
My name is Lionel Leno and I am from Martinique - a small French Caribbean island located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Martinique was first occupied by native Caribbean Indians, then Europeans arrived during the colonial period (Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Dutch) and African slaves brought over to work in sugar cane plantations. This influences our present day culture, traditions, cuisine and our language. My island is probably the most multicultural place that I know of.
As far as I can remember, I’ve always been extremely interested in understanding my origins and in making the most of this multiculturalism. I had a strong desire to travel and explore the world. I pleaded to my parents to let me go live with my sisters in France when I was only 16yrs. It was one of my biggest personal challenges till date - because I was leaving the nest. I presented a sustainable career plan to them and this proved to them that I was responsible enough to leave the family home.
It then took me several years of studying IT and Law in France to understand that I needed to see more places. I moved to London when I was 19yrs where I spent a few years improving my English while getting an amazing work experience. I also worked as a flight attendant to feed my curiosity about the world.
During my vast travel experiences, I became particularly fascinated with the influence of traditions in human interactions. Our problem solving skills and perspectives are increasingly dependent on where we are located in the world. However, despite the differences in everybody's experience, vision and way of living, I noticed that food is the strongest connector of people.
Lionel growing up...
Our problem solving skills and perspectives are increasingly dependent on where we are located in the world.
Be it birthdays, weddings, family meals, meeting people or even when political discussions and decisions have to be taken it is always around some type of nourishment. It then became all clear and obvious to me that food was the ultimate force uniting people and cooking was a way to bind different cultures!
The opportunity of helping people travel through food through my own creations, various flavours and spices appeared to me like the most exciting and enriching experience I could explore.
Today, I’ve discovered that cooking is an art form and could be the vehicle for emotions along with the most healing practice - when knowledge and genuine love are involved.
Three years ago, this realisation - combined with my convictions that all races in the literal meaning: humans and animals could and should live in love and harmony - pushed me to create Lion.L Raw Kitchen.
Against all odds, I resigned from my comfortable job in IT in order to create Lion.L Raw Kitchen: one of the first plant-based cafes in Cork along with a vegan cookery school. Another huge decision since leaving home at 16yrs - as one could expect - the challenges were numerous. Many people used to have preconceived ideas about plant-based food and new options on the food scene.
After a few years of consistent and passionate work between myself and my peers, we are now delighted to see how everyone is not only more open-minded but also are willing to eat more mindfully. I believe people are increasingly aware of the impact that food has on their health and on the environment.
My goal has always been to promote mindful eating and to show that living with compassion hand in hand with nature is possible and enjoyable. I am now a food safety trainer and a passionate plant-based chef still catering within Lion.L Raw Kitchen.
I believe more than ever that all the ingredients are present in Ireland to make a positive change in the world and to promote unity. I am humbly still working on the right recipe for it but I am already in love with the aromas!
I believe it’s all in there! What about you?